DA to review Casco case

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

CASCO — Casco is facing a financial fiasco with the discovery and recovery of missing money.

The town was allegedly deceived by a contracting company doing work on its community kitchen, and lost about $10,000.

However, the town attorney will be gaining the ear of the District Attorney to see what legal action is available. Casco’s lawyer will also ascertain what avenues can be taken so the town might be financially reimbursed.

The biggest victim of the crime: Casco Community Center’s unfinished kitchen.

The recent reaction of residents shows that “community” isn’t just a word in the proper name of the public building.

Not only have individuals volunteered to help complete the kitchen after the appliances arrive, but a local group has said it will fast-track its fundraising efforts to raise in 2011 what it had pledged for a five-year period, Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said on Tuesday.

“That’s always been a wonderful thing about most folks in Casco. The spirit of the community is the willingness of people to roll up their sleeves, jump in, and help to make things happen,” Morton said.

On Feb. 8, the Casco Board of Selectmen learned from Town Attorney Natalie Burns that a $1,900 check — which the town had written out to a restaurant equipment supplier, and had never arrived at its destination — had been cashed at the bank.

The check had been cashed in August by an individual, rather than by the company that was receiving payments for the commercial-grade kitchen appliances that the town had ordered.

But, nobody caught the missing money until October when the town started adding up its payments to General Carriage & Supply Company, according to Town Manager Morton.

Douglas Corbridge, doing business as DCS Construction, was the contractor hired for the job to finish the public kitchen at the Casco Community Center, Morton said. The company should be referred to as Corbridge dba DCS Construction so as not to be confused with a national company with no connection to the local general contractor, he said.

In the agreement between the town and Corbridge dba DCS Construction, the job would cost $22,000, Morton said.

The board selected Corbridge’s construction company using the bidding process, he said. Corbridge’s bid won, in part, because it was the lowest bid — a move to save the taxpayers on town work, according to Morton. None of the bids included heating, electrical, or sprinkler system work, he said.

Per usual, the construction company took out the required contractor’s bond.

The construction project to complete the community center’s kitchen started in summer 2010, Morton said. A Community Development Block Grant had been awarded for the project; and with the town’s matching funds, the account totaled $47,000. There was also promised donations, and the safety net of the bond.

“In the course of the kitchen project, things went wrong,” Morton said.

In December, town officials suspected something was amiss. After all, the work had come to a standstill in the kitchen at the Casco Community Center.

At the time, the town had paid Corbridge almost half of the bid price — or $10,500 of the $22,000 — for what the work he’d done, according to Morton.

When the town decided to recoup its losses and turn-in the contractors’ bond, it took several weeks for it to become clear that the bond was an apparent scam.

Before collecting on a bond, the town first had to make attempts to contact Corbridge dba DCS Construction.

When Western Insurance, the company carrying the bond, received word that Casco had notified the contractor of below-standard work, Western Insurance replied. The company acknowledged it had received contact from the town — all a normal part of the normal paperwork process.

“What we found when we went to collect on the bond is: It is a fake,” Morton said.

“Western Insurance is fine, it’s a legitimate company. The forms looked real, but the signatures were forged,” he said.

According to Town Attorney Natalie Burns, employees at Western Insurance had no record of the bond and didn’t recognize the agent’s signature. As a result, the bond had no monetary value, she said.

“This is being pursued as a fraud investigation,” Burns said.

“Dave has said to me his practice will be different going forward,” she said.

“I don’t know too many town managers who’ve experienced this,” she said.

Burns has been working with a partner in her firm “because of the possibility of litigation,” she told the board.

During that meeting, the selectmen gave the go-ahead for the town attorney to discuss the two legal matters with the District Attorney (DA). Once she talks to the DA, Burns said she would keep the board updated on pending litigation involving both the illegally cashed check and the fraudulent bond.

TD Bank, where the check originated, has been working with the town to reimburse the $1,900 check, according to Morton.

“TD Bank is working on getting the money back, but there is no guarantee,” he said.

Meanwhile, there is an unfinished community kitchen to complete.

As instructed by the board during the Feb. 8 meeting, Morton contacted General Carriage Company late last week to let them know the town would pay the $5,897 balance so the commercial-grade kitchen equipment could be shipped. Morton could not say how many weeks it could take for the order to arrive.

After paying General Carriage Company its final bill, the funding leftover for the kitchen project is $16,170, Morton said. Those funds exist in the Community Kitchen project portion of the budget.

There may be a silver lining among the appliances the town is expecting. A group called Friends of the Casco Community has indicated it will speed up the process of getting fund-raising pledges from local businesses and community members.

“They pledged to raise $80,000. The original plan was that the group would give donations to the town over a five-year period. They still have four more years to reach the goal,” Morton explained.

“But, now, they have notified me, saying that they believe they could make full donation sometime this year,” he said.

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